I have autism. Through my life, I’ve found that most people, when they understand what is at the root of my symptoms, can shift from antipathy or shunning to empathy and support, in terms of their relationship with me and the other autistics in their lives. I sincerely hope that you find the same thing, that sharing these blog posts and videos with the people who surround the autistics in your own life brings more kindness and connection.
So, why do autistics pace, jump, and flap?
You’ve probably seen lecturers, or parents who are upset, or people who are emotionally over-wrought pacing back and forth, or around in circles. You may even have experienced occasions when you found yourself pacing. All humans pace when we have a high level of stress and tension, when we’re feeling very nervous, afraid, or intense about things.
When things happen which we care deeply about, or when we’re trying to express things that are very important to us, our nervous systems may accumulate a high charge. And we need a way to let that charge out. Letting the charge out through physical actions allows us to calm ourselves enough to continue doing what we’re doing.
Now, jumping is another way of letting that charge out. Have you ever been to a rock concert, or seen film footage from one? Often, there’s a group of people standing up right in front of the stage, eagerly anticipating the band’s arrival. And when the band comes on stage, members of this group (and sometimes the whole group) begin jumping up and down, flapping their hands as though they’re drying their fingernails, and letting out strange shrieks. While they might look autistic, they’re not. They’re so wound up, they have to physically release that charge in their nervous systems.
When autistics do this, it’s rarely to do with being excited about a band! The only way an autistic could get anywhere near those loud-speakers is by focussing on something to the exclusion of everything else, for example the way John Elder Robison pulls one instrument’s melody out of a medley of other instruments. The volume of noise would just be so overwhelming, without that kind of crutch.
We autistics can deal with really loud noises or other sensory overwhelm by developing the skill of using our focus on a single thing to exclude every other sensory input. That’s called monotropism. It’s a coping mechanism (not a pathology or problem, grin). But for the most part, you’re not going to find an autistic cozying up to a really noisy loud-speaker.
When you see someone pacing, or jumping, or flapping, you know that they’ve got so much ‘zing’ going through their nervous system, they need extra physical ways to let that ‘zing’ out. That ‘zing’ can be coming from both internal and external sources of overstimulation. Acting in these ways can make the difference between being able to stay present, learn, and interact, or having to leave or lose self-control (which none of us enjoys). Allowing us to self-monitor and self-sustain in this way lets us participate much, much, better.
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